Diocesan News

Cardinal Dolan, Bishop DiMarzio Urge Closure of Rikers Jails 

On Sept. 19, Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, along with local interfaith religious leaders, urged city leaders to close the 87-year-old Rikers Island jail complex on the East River. (Photo: Allyson Escobar)

MANHATTAN — Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio joined Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York and other religious leaders at a press conference in lower Manhattan on Sept. 19 to call for the closing of New York City’s jails on Rikers Island, a complex of 10 detention centers that hold about 7,300 inmates.

“It’s very clear that the conditions at Rikers are very poor, immoral and subhuman,” Bishop DiMarzio told The Tablet. “We need to do something, and unless we do, it’s going to stay the way it is.”

A proposal to close Rikers Islands’ jails by 2026 and replace them with smaller facilities in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx awaits a City Council vote in October for final approval. The program is expected to cost $8.7 million.

“We ministers are passionate about the closing of Rikers Island, and for the continued reform of our justice system. Why? Because, simply put, we have to,” Cardinal Dolan said at the press conference, flanked by Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders in front of the New York County Courthouse.

“God has told us to bring compassion, mercy and justice to those who are incarcerated,” Cardinal Dolan said. “We are experts in the protection of human dignity and the common good of the community we love.” 

But borough residents living near the proposed new jail sites have expressed their opposition to the facilities, citing safety and fear of widespread incarceration. 

Cardinal Dolan, though, said change is needed.

“What strikes me is the overall dreariness of it, the isolation, the darkness, the scattered nature … It promotes a lack of safety,” Cardinal Dolan said of Rikers Island.

“We advocate for [inmates], and that’s why we agree that Rikers has got to go,” he said. “It’s contrary to Biblical teachings; it’s contrary to our American values of fairness and hope and justice.”